Fellowship Southwest / immigration

For International Migrant Day, nine immigrants’ stories

This Friday, Dec. 18, is International Migrants Day. To help us understand immigrants, Fellowship Southwest’s Elket Rodríguez interviewed nine Christian immigrants in different stages of their immigration process.

These immigrants represent different countries, races, ethnicities and religious traditions. Some are asylum seekers living in migrant shelters in Mexico, just across the southern border of the United States. Others have legal status in the United States and wait for completion of their naturalization process. Most have immigrated to the United States and joined the fabric of this nation. One of them lives under the uncertainty of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. All of them are migrants willing to share the role that faith and the church play or played during their migrant journey.

From Indonesia to Mexico and from Florida to California, they tell us how a church can make a difference in the lives of migrants today. These are their voices:


Shauw Chin Capps, CBF Foundation president and CBF chief development officer

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia. Raised in Singapore. Lives in Atlanta. Attends Peachtree Baptist Church.

What role did your faith in God play during your migrant journey? 

My migration journey began in 1995, when I was attending seminary in Louisville, Ky., to pursue my degree in church social work. My faith is the reason I sought out the migration journey. I attended seminary and pursued social work because I felt called by God to serve “the least of these.” I also married a Baptist missionary kid, and we did not know exactly where we will serve but felt that a U.S. citizenship would afford us wider access to travel to other parts of the world.

What role did the church play during your migrant journey? 

The church family of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville embraced us, and provided beloved community in those years. Their love and support sustained us through the journey. We were married in that church, and our first daughter was dedicated in that church.

As a poor seminary student, I was not able to afford the fees of an attorney to assist me in the immigration process. So, the church referred me to the local Catholic Charities, where I was assigned an amazing immigration attorney at a very low cost. She was kind, compassionate and helped us every step of the way. Without her assistance, I don’t think we would have been able to navigate the process. I still remember her to this day, and I’m forever grateful. My migration journey took five years. I became a citizen in 2000.

What role would you have loved the church to play during your migrant journey?

In my case, the church stood and walked with me in my journey. Church was where I felt most accepted and loved. I believe that is the role of the church for any person or family on a migrant journey—to be the welcoming arms of Christ.


Pilar Castrillo, retirement specialist and CEO of Migrant Journey

Born in Guanarito, Portuguesa, Venezuela. Lives in Orlando, Fla. Attends Mosaic Church in Orlando.    

What role has your faith in God played in your migrant journey? 

It was the only thing that sustained me in the face of so many difficulties and barriers suffered by the uprooting from my country and the need to protect my life and that of my daughter. All I know is that when migrants bring Jesus in their suitcases, they are better persons and better citizens. (To hear Pilar’s story, click here.)

What role has the church played in your migrant journey?

I found a family. I found a family that is filling the void of the family I don’t have with me today because they are in Venezuela. The church has been the community that has helped me and supported me economically, mentally, socially and physically. The church has always been there for me in the most difficult of times and has inspired me to continue working for the body of Christ and the people.

What role would you love for the church to play in your migrant journey?

I expect the church to be more involved in helping migrants understand systems and how to obtain immigration benefits. The church can do more to create spaces for migrants to harness their abilities and capacities.


Rosario Consuelo Castañedal, Housekeeper

Born in Lima, Perú. Lives in Fredericksburg, Va. Attends Iglesia Bautista Chancellor in Spotsylvania, Va.  

What role did your faith in God play during your migrant journey? 

Faith played a major role. God provided me with the peace and the strength that I needed during my journey. In the beginning, my faith was strong, but then it was static as I faced difficult circumstances. I came to this country pregnant and not knowing English. As a migrant, you always fear the police, that they will arrest you and deport you. But with the help of my pastor and my church, my faith was strengthened.  

What role did the church play during your migrant journey? 

Without the pastor and the support of my church, I would have not been able to obtain the peace and the tranquility I needed in the most difficult moments. My pastor was very important in this process. He taught me that I should not let go of my faith during tough times. I thank (CBF missionary) Greg Smith and LUCHA Ministries for their help during the process.

What role would you have loved for the church to play during your migrant journey?

My church did everything they could to help me. The LUCHA Ministries team visited our church, oriented me and assisted me in obtaining my legal status. The church and LUCHA Ministries helped me learn more about the immigration process and its struggles.


Juvenal González, Missionary/church starter

Born in Guerrero, Mexico. Lives in Tijuana, Mexico. Attends Iglesia Bautista la Calle in Tijuana.

What role did your faith in God play during your immigration journey?

I didn’t know Christ when I decided to migrate. I really affirmed my faith when I was about to die with tuberculosis in a hospital in North Carolina. (To hear Juvenal’s  story, click here.)

What role did the church play during your immigration journey?

During my migrant journey, the church played the most important role in my life. They accepted me as I was—a person who needed Christ. The congregation was very kind with me. They welcomed me and embraced me. Then I told myself, “I belong here.”

What role would you have liked the church to play during your immigration journey?

Based on my experience, I would have loved for the church to feed me and shelter me without forcing me to follow Jesus Christ, because that comes from a personal decision. I would have loved for no church to deny me shelter or food.


Carmen, (Her name has been changed to protect her identity.) Asylum seeker

Born in Santa Bárbara, Honduras. Lives in a migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

What role has your faith in God played in your migrant journey? 

God has been my strength. I thank him for my health. I thank him because I have both of my hands and feet. He’s really overprotected me. But I’m desperate. I want to be with my children. I continually ask myself: Why do I have to be here? Why are my children in the United States, but I’m here? I’ve been raped several times. My sister was murdered with a machete. My father was tortured. And my brother was assassinated. I had to flee, and I’m tired of waiting for the asylum process to resume. Sometimes, I wonder why I’ve suffered so much in my life.

What role has the church played in your migrant journey?

I thank God for Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz (part of Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant relief network). If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I wouldn’t even exist. He fed me, sheltered me and protected me. The church has been there for everything I’ve needed.   

What role would you love for the church to play in your migrant journey?

I want to be reunited with my family, especially with my young kids. That’s all I want now.


Carlos Navarro, pastor of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville in Brownsville, Texas

Born in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Lives in Brownsville. Attends Primera Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville.   

What role did your faith in God play during your migrant journey? 

Everything was part of the divine purpose. I remember that 42 days after entering the United States, an exaggerated urge to visit a church grew in me. I told God I would visit the first church I could find. That church was Primera Iglesia Bautista del Sur of San Francisco, Calif. Pastor Daniel Sotelo received me at the church, and I lived for nine months in the church building. The church had never allowed a migrant to sleep on the premises. He baptized me, and I was ordained there as a deacon and as a minister. I also met my wife there and stayed there until I went to the seminary and began pastoring a church in Stockton, Calif.

What role did the church play during your migrant journey? 

Acceptance and reception in all areas—emotional, spiritual, work and family. I found everything there. I would not understand my life today without the intervention of the church and without the mentoring of my pastor, Daniel Sotelo. The church is in my blood. I see myself in the people I feed and give a glass of water. I found empathy at church. The love I received impacted my life, and it still resonates in my mind and in my heart today. The same thing that I found in First Baptist Church of South San Francisco is what I propose to the people who visit my church today.

What role would you have loved the church to play during your migrant journey?

The church’s love for me surpassed my expectations. The church was the institution I criticized the most when I was a youngster in Guatemala. I studied in an evangelical school, but I did not accept Jesus. I had a very distorted view of the pastors. But when I meet Pastor Daniel Sotelo, I realized I was the fool.


Enrique Catana, radio broadcaster

Born in Mexico City, Mexico. Lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. Attends Iglesia Cristiana Sin Fronteras in Winston-Salem.

What role has your faith in God played in your migrant journey? 

During my trip to the United States, I placed my faith and hope in the God of my childhood. I believed in his care and his good purpose for my life. I owe this to my mom, who used to remind me God would always take care of me and wanted the best for me.

What role has the church played in your migrant journey?

The church I used to assist when I arrived in the United States only prayed, but they never got involved in any important aspect of the immigrant’s life. There was no kind of community or civic involvement. The church intended to love the immigrant without any civic engagement or practice of social justice. Ironically, the needs of the people were not a priority. It is a totally different approach from what I’m experiencing today in Iglesia Cristiana Sin Fronteras.  

What role would you love for the church to play in your migrant journey?

Being kind, caring and welcoming. Being more empathetic with the needs of the immigrant. It felt like they wanted to fill the building with people without any social or community engagement. I would have loved to receive an orientation about the different immigration resources available and about the immigration system.


Betsy, (Her name has been changed to protect her identity.) migrant

Born in Lloro, Honduras. Lives in a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

What role has your faith in God played in your migrant journey? 

It’s been very important, because I have suffered a lot. My house was burned in my country. My father was killed, and there have been several rape attempts toward my 12-year-old daughter. I know what I’m experiencing is very difficult, and this journey is for brave people only. But I have my two children with me. I am a strong woman because God gives me strength. I need to live every day. I also have faith in God because I can rely on Pastor Rosalío Sosa (part of Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant relief network). 

What role has the church played in your migrant journey?

I arrived at the shelter with an 18-day-old bleeding injury. If it weren’t because of Pastor Sosa’s help, I would have died. I’ve learned God is never going to let me go. What comforts me is the fact I know that there are many people praying for us.

What role would you love for the church to play in your migrant journey?

Everything. All the help I’ve gotten so far has been because of the church. The church is my priority and my primary source of living. The church has given us food, clothes, medicine and the word of God. I cannot ask for more. I am very blessed and grateful.


Rubén Ortiz, CBF Latino Field Ministries coordinator

Born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Lives in Deltona, Fla. Attends Iglesia Bautista Nuevo Pacto in Deltona.

What role did your faith in God play during your migrant journey? 

God was my sustainer in all the stages of my migrant path. Knowing that I was loved and guided by God made me feel part of humanity in a journey that transcended my nationality and my geographical circumstances. My migrant journey transformed me into an agent of the Kingdom wherever I walked.

What role did the church play during your migrant journey? 

The church was my family. From Day 1, Iglesia Bautista Betania of Quito, Ecuador, welcomed me as one of them. I never felt like an outcast. I was naturally integrated into the congregation. I was well received. In fact, I would say that I was “spoiled” given my age—21 years. They understood that I was growing and invited me to be part of their families by opening their homes and their hearts to me.

What role would you have loved the church to play during your migrant journey?

In my case, the church played its role. That community of faith was not only a safe place, but a sacred and transformative space for me.


Fellowship Southwest provides food, shelter and Christian love to immigrant refugees, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. To support this ministry, click here.

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